Funding gap in children's services

13th October 2006 at 01:00
Neglect of social work children's services has led to a "wholly exceptional" funding gap, according to a leading expert in local government finance.

A report by Arthur Midwinter, commissioned by the Association of Directors of Social Work, shows that Scottish councils are contending with a shortfall of pound;161 million for core social work children's services - and predicts that this could rise to pound;207 million in 2010-11.

The report states that in 2006-07 councils are spending 63 per cent more on statutory services, such as care, fostering and secure accommodation, than the Scottish Executive allocates in grants.

In the report, Professor Midwinter, says: "The growing deficit is wholly exceptional for a major local authority service. While the executive has provided additional funding for new initiatives and joint working, it has neglected core funding of children's services."

The executive said Professor Midwinter's report was misleading and based on incomplete data, and that there had been record funding for councils since 1999.

Meanwhile, figures released by the executive have further highlighted the growing pressure on children's services. Altogether, 2,791 children were placed on child protection registers in 2005-06, up 22 per cent from 2,294 the previous year. The figure for those registered because of sexual abuse was up 33 per cent to 301, while there was a 24 per cent increase in those registered because of physical injury to 779.

The executive said the increases were explained by better identification of children who needed help. There was also a change in that a child referred more than once would previously have been recorded once by some authorities; all now record multiple entries for the same child.

The movement of youngsters on and off the register means fewer are recorded at any one time. On the traditional snapshot date of March 31, there were 2,288 registered, a less dramatic rise of 6 per cent from the 2,157 on the same date the previous year. This year's total included unborn children for the first time, which was partly responsible for the rise.

The local authority with the highest proportion of children on its register at March 31 was Aberdeen City Council, with 160 children registered, or five children per 1,000 aged five to 15. The Scottish average is 2.5 children per 1,000.

A city council spokesman stressed that Aberdeen's figure had been about double the national average for a number of years: "This can't be put down to a single issue. However, it has been felt that the number of children in the city who are in homes where there are drug or substance misuse issues tends to have an impact."

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